The name Explore Plant Hire may be a new one in the industry, but the people and the business behind that name will be familiar to many. Established in 2015, the immediate focus for Explore was to provide logistics and transport services to their initial customer, Laing O’Rourke.
Explore grew rapidly and were looking for further opportunities to continue this trend, at the same time Select were looking to align their focus to the complex major projects Laing O’Rourke were delivering and the challenges they bring, specifically around lifting. The result was that by January 2017, Explore had bought the plant assets from Select and by March was fully operational and trading as Explore Plant Hire. The strategy since then has been to invest in growing and renewing the fleet and developing the brand in the market place.
Talking to Explore General Manager, Dan Thompson, the drive and enthusiasm is clear, “It’s been a pretty steep learning curve, but the new, simpler business structure of Explore has really freed things up and made the decision-making process quicker and easier. Laing O’Rourke is still very much Explore’s biggest customer, but the focus is firmly on growing the customer base externally as a supplier of both transport and plant and we’re predicting a turnover of £65M this year.”
A key part of the investment and growth plan has been updating the plant fleet. This included the decision to place an order for 10 excavators with Marubeni-Komatsu. A mixture of the ultra-short tail-swing Komatsu PC138US-11 and burly Komatsu PC360LC-11 have now joined the 200+ strong excavator fleet. Previously the Select fleet was made up of approximately 40% Cat, with the rest split between Hitachi and JCB, so these are the first Komatsu excavators in the fleet.
So why the switch to Komatsu? Explore Plant Operations Leader, Roxanne Barrow picks up the story. “There were various criteria we looked at during our decision-making process. Obviously, there’s the commercial side of things, so we looked back at total lifecycle costs of previous machines and compared these against projections for the manufacturers we were shortlisting. On this occasion, the decision was also based on service levels. We felt a couple of our current suppliers were letting us down on the after-sales side of things and certain others had very long delivery lead times. We thought it was a good time to start considering opportunities with different manufacturers and Komatsu were able to deliver really quickly.”
“We’ve had discussions with Marubeni-Komatsu for the past couple of years, but for various reasons those conversations never come to anything” continued Roxanne. “With a renewed ability to invest in the fleet and the simpler management structure of Explore, our decision-making process has been simplified enormously, allowing us to pursue alternative choices.”
A major factor in the move to Komatsu machines was the comprehensive Service and Support package offered by Marubeni-Komatsu. This provided 3-year extended warranties on the machines along with Komatsu CARE® which covers all factory-scheduled maintenance. This servicing is performed by Komatsu-trained technicians and only uses genuine Komatsu parts. It also provides up to 2 complimentary Komatsu Diesel Particulate Filter (KDPF) exchange units and a KDPF warranty for the first 5 years or 9,000 hours. This was a departure for Explore who previously (as Select) would choose to maintain the plant themselves rather than buy a care package.
“Whenever we’ve looked at service contracts before they’ve always seemed quite an expensive add-on,” explained Roxanne, “but the Marubeni-Komatsu offer was incredibly attractive so we decided to give it a try. This gives the benefit of allowing us to free-up our own engineers for other jobs. It also meant we could feel more confident in putting those new machines out on high-profile major sites, or in areas that aren’t especially close to our own depots, with the security of knowing that servicing wouldn’t be an issue for us. A good example of this is the machines we have on the Manchester Airport site where both PC138 and PC360 excavators can be seen working hard. It’s great for us in terms of branding” continued Dan, “to have those new machines out on hire to customers working on one of the highest profile jobs in the country already.”
The final element in Explore’s decision making process was the growing importance of telematics to their customers and it was here that Komatsu’s system, Komtrax® won them over. With the built-in ability to provide feedback on each machine’s usage, vital systems, whereabouts and more, this proved to be just the “value added” feature Explore were looking for. “We are using a platform that can pull in all that information and publish it out to customers in a dashboard format – that’s a real bonus for our customers” said Dan. “For example, the system might highlight that although a customer has 10 machines on hire, the levels of utilisation show they only need eight. Whilst this might reduce that customer’s short-term revenue, their loyalty and retention will improve.” Additionally, the system can highlight if a machine is being mis-used, which in turn can highlight opportunities for additional operator training and potential fuel savings.
With a host of new projects due to start over the coming 18 months, Explore look sure to go from strength to strength. And with quick availability on their Komatsu machines of choice it seems Explore’s relationship with Marubeni-Komatsu is just the alternative they were looking for too.